Caroline Graham was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England, on July 17, 1931, to Horace Frederick and Edith Mary Harris. Her mother died when she was six years old. Graham attended Nuneaton High School on a scholarship. She left school at the age of fourteen to work in a mill. She worked at a succession of similar jobs until she joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service. During this time she met her husband, Mike, who was in the Royal Air Force. She won a place in drama school, and she performed in local repertory theaters as she and her husband moved from base to base. They divorced after thirteen years of marriage. Graham pursued acting in London, working odd jobs between acting roles. While employed at a marriage bureau, she met the father of her son, David. As a forty-year-old single mother, she made the risky decision to become a full-time writer.
Although Graham began to write short stories, she was able to publish only journalism pieces, not fiction. She abandoned journalism when she moved to Suffolk, subsisting on government assistance for the next six years. She began writing radio dramas while taking a course on the nineteenth century novel. Doing the analysis assignments led Graham to believe that she could write. Her first couple of books were not successful, so she turned to crime fiction. Her first novel featuring Barnaby, The Killings at Badger’s Drift, received a Macavity Award for the best first novel in 1989, was nominated for an Agatha Award in 1988, and was recognized by the Crime Writers’ Association as one of the top hundred crime novels of all time.
Graham completed her second mystery novel, Death of a Hollow Man (1989) and returned to school, receiving a master of arts degree in theater studies in 1990. She continued to write installments in the Chief Inspector Barnaby series, which became the basis of a British television series, Midsomer Murders, that started in 1997.